Leadership 12 – I will empty myself of self

A Leadership Cue Card: I will empty myself of self

Quick! What is the first word that pops into your head in response to this question: “What is the opposite of love?” It would not surprise me that you might have come up with the word hate. Certainly, those two words are often put together as the opposite of one another. However, think about that just a little bit.

We began yesterday to develop a “leadership cue card” as a simple statement of belief about leadership. Today, we continue to unpack our first statement “Compelled by love, I will empty myself of self and live for the benefit of others,” focusing on that middle phrase of emptying myself of self.

Think of a time when someone came into your sphere of influence and you did not really love him or her. You did not act for their benefit or in their best interest without regard for how you might benefit. Perhaps it was a homeless person at a stoplight or someone in your office that just “rubs you the wrong way.” Got an example? Good. So what was your attitude toward them if it wasn’t love? Was it really hate? Or something else? Like ambivalence. Or impatience. Or indifference. Or simply ignoring them. The root of these actions is not necessarily hate but more like selfishness. Perhaps, the opposite of love is not hate so much as it is selfish.

Our leadership challenge then is to learn to empty self of self: to make one’s self-interest subordinate to the need of others.

This is a difficult task in the making of a leader, especially when one considers that so much of leadership is oriented to the benefits given the leader – perks, status, benefits, etc. But, as we look at biblical examples of leadership, we see repeatedly that leadership is best exercised in service to others. That means putting aside selfishness and becoming “other oriented.”

Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, in their book, The Servant Leader speak to the “Leadership Ego.” In contrast to the psychological term, they offer two definitions of ego: 1. Edging God Out; or, 2. Exalting God Only. The first definition is often realized when leaders become prideful or fearful. Prideful leaders promote themselves over others. Fearful leaders hide behind position, withhold information, intimidate others or become “control freaks”.

On the other hand, leaders who Exalt God Only embrace an attitude of humility and confidence that God is working through them for His glory. In other words, the latter kind of leader has learned to set aside personal pride and insecurity and the self-centeredness that it demonstrates and, in its place, put the work and intention of God for another at the center of attention.

Philippians 2:3-8 is a classic biblical example of what we are discussing here:

Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not [only] for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death- even to death on a cross. (HCSB)

Re-read that last paragraph. Christ, our example, God incarnate, chose not to enter our world as conquering king (yet) but as a servant-slave. Humble. Obedient. Other-focused. Exalting God Only. Is there a better model of leadership than Christ? And, is there a person more opposite of selfish than He? He is love. He was compelled by love, devoid of self-centeredness, and lived for the benefit of those who were still His enemies. Us.

Finally, we can look again at Nehemiah as an example of this self-less, other-focused style of leadership. In chapter 5, we read two stories: one of Nehemiah’s reform to stop oppressive practices to the poor and a second of Nehemiah’s refusal to take on the traditional benefits of his position. Eugene Peterson paraphrased the latter in this way:

From the time King Artaxerxes appointed me as their governor in the land of Judah-from the twentieth to the thirty-second year of his reign, twelve years-neither I nor my brothers used the governor’s food allowance. Governors who had preceded me had oppressed the people by taxing them forty shekels of silver (about a pound) a day for food and wine while their underlings bullied the people unmercifully. But out of fear of God I did none of that. I had work to do; I worked on this wall. All my men were on the job to do the work. We didn’t have time to line our own pockets. I fed one hundred and fifty Jews and officials at my table in addition to those who showed up from the surrounding nations. One ox, six choice sheep, and some chickens were prepared for me daily, and every ten days a large supply of wine was delivered. Even so, I didn’t use the food allowance provided for the governor-the people had it hard enough as it was. Nehemiah 5:14-18 (Message)

Emptying oneself of self is not demeaning or degrading. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is allowing the God of all creation to live through your humility and obedience to demonstrate His grace and mercy to others. Jesus did that, and God exalted Him. You do that, and God will never let you down.

Compelled by love, I will empty myself of self and live for the benefit of others


For Reflection: As a leader, are you more likely to Edge God Out or Exalt God Only? Find a copy of The Servant Leader by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges. It’s beautiful little book you can read in an hour but will take a lifetime to master.

For Memorization: Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Philippians 2:3 (HCSB)

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